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Culture

The Accidental Room

99% Invisible

"What’s your favorite podcast?” If only more people would ask me that! I get a small rush answering, "99% Invisible, of course.”

In their own words: "99% Invisible is about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world." It’s one of the most popular podcasts today with well over 300 episodes. The founder and host, Roman Mars, is a winsome, curious guy with a sweet energy. He’s the kind of guy I want to have a smoothie with.

To get you hooked, just listen to one of my favorites: "The Accidental Room". You’ll marvel at a small group of artists in Rhode Island who found a sliver of dead space in a mall and created a secret apartment. They occupied it under the noses of security and customers for nearly four years!

Token Ethicists and Non-existent Moral Communities

L. M. Sacasas

There are few more pressing tasks for contemporary Christians than that of coming to grips with the technological world that is rapidly developing and shifting around us, and which is becoming our primary social environment.

To that end, I have found the work of Michael Sacasas peculiarly perceptive and helpful. I highly recommend that people follow his blog, The Frailest Thing.

In "Token Ethicists and Non-existent Moral Communities", Sacasas explores the difficulty of addressing technology appropriately, as we lack "a relevant moral community with either the prerequisite coherence or authority to effectively grapple with the problems we face."

Linking Prayers and Purchases, Art and Labor

Alan Jacobs

What does it mean to live an integrated life? In this fascinating article, Alan Jacobs turns to the undeniably strange Victorian sage John Ruskin for an answer.

"The great quest of Ruskin’s life," Jacobs writes, "was to amalgamate disparate experience: not to allow the various aspects of life to sit separate with one another, as though our prayers have nothing to do with our purchases, or our arts from our labor, but rather to bring all of them together into a healthy, vibrant symbiosis."

One of Ruskin's key insights later in life was “God has lent us the earth for our life; it is a great entail." Because of this, we mustn't compartmentalize our life as if what we make and do will have no effect on those who come after us. Whether or not we intend it, we will pass down parts of the lives we've lived.

The Religion of Workism

Derek Thompson

Over at The Atlantic, Derek Thompson explores the new religion of "workism" so prevalent among millennials (who are rapidly burning out, as we saw a few issues ago). Why has work taken on the trappings of religion? Thompson notes the way in which "the American conception of work has shifted from jobs to careers to callings—from necessity to status to meaning."

Today, one's work can become one's soulmate, invested with nearly religious meaning. However, as Thompson notes, one benefit of traditional religions is that "God-fearing worshippers put their faith in an intangible and unfalsifiable force of goodness. But work is tangible, and success is often falsified. To make either the centerpiece of one’s life is to place one’s esteem in the mercurial hands of the market. To be a workist is to worship a god with firing power."

Read "Workism Is Making Americans Miserable" at The Atlantic. For a deeply Christian treatment of faith, work, and vocation, check out Tim Keller's Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work.

The Vice of Ease

Jen Pollock Michel

All over the developed world, people seem to be developing fatigue when it comes to basic bodily living.

Jen Pollock Michel explores these trends and asks an important question: "As we continue to reduce the physical burden it takes to move through the world, and the efforts of our lives are often only as effortful as staring our smartphones in the face (why bother with a home button?), how will we galvanize the real will for love of God and neighbor?"

Sex in the Post-Modern Story

Sarah Williams

In these three careful and incisive lectures, historian Sarah Williams explains the way in which private moral decisions in the bedroom have profound public implications. She does so through both personal narrative and historical argument.

Williams opens with the story of Cerian, her and her husband's second child, who was diagnosed in utero with thanatophoric dysplasia, a lethal skeletal deformity that would surely result in death shortly after birth. The pressure they experienced to abort Cerian provokes reflection about our culture's primary lens for envisioning a flourishing life: the capacity for unlimited choice.

Framed this way, the second and third lectures track the philosophical and historical foundations for our common understandings of gender and sexuality, particularly the way in which this understanding is shaped by a free market economy. In our culture, Williams says, "persons and personal identities (including sexual identities) are, above all, products of the individual’s ability to marshal their resources toward a desired and chosen end. This ability to choose is believed to maximize human freedom." But does it? Listen to "Sex in the Post-Modern Story" (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) on the Corban Talks podcast. To read the story of Cerian, see this article from Plough, an excerpt from Sarah Williams' recent book Perfectly Human: Nine Months with Cerian.

Of Monks and Marie Kondo

Heidi Deddens

If you've been around Netflix this year (or a bookstore in the last four years), you've probably come across Marie Kondo, the infectiously gleeful Japanese tidying guru and mastermind behind The KonMari Method™ of home organization. Along with a host of other new minimalists, Marie Kondo has gained an audience with an unlikely message in our consumerist society: there is joy in owning fewer things.

Living with less has been a facet of some religious traditions for thousands of years, but this article by Heidi Deddens highlights how the ethos of self-help and self-promotion that permeates the new minimalism is a strange innovation that would've confounded minimalists of old, particularly Christian ones.

Read "Minimalism and Monasticism" over at Comment to find out what Marie Kondo and the desert fathers do and don't have in common. You can also read some other engaging articles on the new minimalism in Comment's Winter 2018 issue.

How to Argue

Daryl Davis

Daryl Davis makes his living playing blues piano, but he dreams about one day opening a museum of Klu Klux Klan robes, garments, and memorabilia. He already has around 200 robes, each signifying a former Klan member whom he has convinced to leave the KKK.

It all started at a blues venue during a conversation over a drink with a white music lover. "You know," the man said, "this is the first time I ever sat down and had a drink with a black man?” Davis was taken aback and asked why. “I'm a member of the Ku Klux Klan,” he answered.

“The fact that a Klansman and black person could sit down at the same table and enjoy the same music, that was a seed planted,” says Davis. “I decided to go around the country and sit down with Klan leaders and Klan members to find out: How can you hate me when you don't even know me?”

Pray for Chinese Christians

Lily Kuo

The Chinese government is uneasy about the nation’s growing Christian population. Their latest solution? Install CCTV cameras in Christian churches, crack down on Bible sales, publish a retranslated and annotated Bible that features a “correct understanding” of the text, and shut down churches that will not comply. As Lily Kuo reports for The Guardian, “A statement signed by 500 house church leaders in November says authorities have removed crosses from buildings, forced churches to hang the Chinese flag and sing patriotic songs, and barred minors from attending.”

One of the most notable churches to resist these government restrictions is Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. Over 100 members of Early Rain were arrested in December. The church’s pastor Wang Yi (pictured above) and his wife Jiang Rong are still in detention and charged with “inciting subversion” against the government. Wang expected this. Before he and his wife were detained, Wang issued a bold public statement:

If I am imprisoned for a long or short period of time, if I can help reduce the authorities’ fear of my faith and of my Savior, I am very joyfully willing to help them in this way. But I know that only when I renounce all the wickedness of this persecution against the church and use peaceful means to disobey, will I truly be able to help the souls of the authorities and law enforcement. I hope God uses me, by means of first losing my personal freedom, to tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority, and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation

Anne Helen Petersen

If you’re a millennial (or a friend of parent of one), you will probably feel a sting of recognition while reading Anne Helen Petersen’s description of “errand fatigue”, a seemingly intractable condition that prevents millennials from accomplishing the most basic “high-effort, low-reward tasks” such as taking back library books or buying stamps.

Why are these tasks so hard? Because millennials have been conditioned to believe that their energies should be focused solely on high-effort, high-reward tasks. "[O]ur generation has been trained, tailored, primed, and optimized for the workplace — first in school, then through secondary education — starting as very young children."

Petersen’s article sheds light on the various areas where a narrative of ceaseless optimization has been reinforced for millennials, including parental pressure, the 2008 financial crisis, a comparison-driven social media landscape, and phones that tether millennials to work. You don’t have to agree with Petersen’s solutions to recognize the power of her analysis. Read "How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation" at BuzzFeed News.

3 Great Untruths to Stop Telling Our Kids – and Ourselves

Jonathan Haidt

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt is convinced that three great untruths have been woven into the fabric of American parenting in the last generation: The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings. The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

The result? Kids born in the mid to late 1990s — the generation known as iGen — have been unwittingly infantilized, emotionalized, and tribalized by their parents. Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are on the rise. Safe spaces are in high demand on university campuses, which have become hives of continual protest against contrarian ideas and speech perceived as threatening.

Listen to Haidt talk about the three great untruths, their wide ranging effects, and how we might resist them in the following short videos: 3 great untruths to stop telling kids—and ourselves How overparenting backfired on Americans There are two kinds of identity politics. One is good. The other, very bad You can read more in Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff's new book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.

How to Become Scrooge

B.D. McClay

A few Thanksgivings ago, B.D. McClay found herself watching The Muppet Christmas Carol with family and realized that all along she'd been missing the meaning of Charles Dickens' classic tale. It's not so much the story of a bad man who turns good as it is the story of a busy, indifferent man who learns how to care.

If that's true, A Christmas Carol is just the right story for our manic world. Perhaps people become Scrooges "not because they are stupid but because they can’t help it—that’s what the world is set up to make of them. They will not think of themselves as bad people, merely busy ones." Like Ebenezer Scrooge, we need the gift of perspective – past, present, and future – to make us care.

Read "My Ebenezer" at The Weekly Standard – and then go watch The Muppet Christmas Carol with someone you love.